The KHL may be responsible for producing the NHL’s next superstar
Over each of the last three years, a former member of the Kontinental Hockey League has joined the ranks of elite talent of the NHL. The KHL is considered the second best hockey league in the world, and even with differences such as the larger Olympic-size ice, superstars that have made the jump recently to the smaller ice and larger talent of the NHL have blossomed.
The Bread Man: Artemi Panarin
Artemi Panarin burst onto the scene after a monster 2014-15 season at St. Petersburg SKA, where he put up 62 points in 54 games. That kind of pace would have had him at almost 113 points at 82 games, which, while not the same talent level, would have shattered the 87 points that Jamie Benn put up that year to win the Art Ross Trophy for most points.
|2014-15||23||St. Petersburg SKA||KHL||54||26||36||62||18||37|
|2013-14||22||St. Petersburg SKA||KHL||51||20||20||40||21||30|
Panarin, who could have been drafted in 2010 but was passed over, made opposing GMs shiver when he broke on to the scene, sharing a line with Patrick Kane and putting up 77 points on the way to a Calder Trophy for best rookie in the NHL. His spark helped linemate Kane win both the Art Ross and the Hart Trophy for MVP.
While there is no doubt that playing on a line with Kane and countryman Artem Anisimov helped acclimate Panarin to the NHL, he continues to be a good player for his new club, the Columbus Blue Jackets.
While Panarin isn’t on pace to match either of his point totals from his first two NHL campaigns, he has shown to be more important to his team’s puck possession, and the only thing holding him back this year is his pedestrian shot percentage. At even strength, the Blue Jackets are controlling 58% of shots when Panarin is on the ice, with the team dipping below 50% when he comes off the ice. He is also accruing the highest time on ice per game among forwards at about 20 and a half minutes per game, with over three of those on the power play each night.
Panarin was brought in to be the offensive powerhouse that he was in Chicago and in Russia before that. Now that he is being looked at the best player on his line, he shoulders the load that Patrick Kane once helped him carry.
The Return of Radulov
Alexander Radulov returned last season to the NHL to help a (still) offensively starved Montreal Canadians team. After being drafted in the first round by the Nashville Predators in 2004, Radulov put in two seasons including a career-best 58 point campaign, went back to the KHL, and then came back for the end of the 2011-12 season before leaving again after a suspension during the playoffs that season.
Fast forward to 2016, and Radulov has found his way back to the NHL on a one-year deal with Montreal. Coming off two outstanding seasons with CSKA Moskva, the only reservations about Radulov were about his off-ice issues that found him in his last season in Nashville
Last season, Radulov put up 54 points, 2nd behind captain Max Pacioretty, while leading the Canadians in assists. While it was a departure from his insane 1.37 point per game average he put up the two prior season in the NHL, Radulov has shown he still can play in the world’s best hockey league.
Following that campaign, Radulov inked a nice five year/$31.25 million contract with the Dallas Stars. Now playing on a line with superstars Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, Radulov is back at a near point-per-game pace with Dallas so far this year.
A lesser known commodity due to playing in Sunrise, Evgeni Dadonov returned to the franchise that drafted him in the third round in 2007 when he signed a three-year contract to return to the Florida Panthers.
No trio is more important to their team’s possession of the puck, with Dadonov ranking second in Corsi relative percentage in the entire NHL, just ahead on Huberdeau and Barkov. Even though Dadonov ranks second, he is playing five more minutes at even strength than Daniel Sedin every night and shooting almost four percent better as well.
Beyond possessing the puck, Dadonov is at a point-per-game pace with 17 points in 17 games so far this season. He has already matched his NHL career high in points through 19 fewer games, and is poised to contribute a similar, if not bigger, impact that Radulov and Panarin did for their respective squads.
The Future of KHL’s Impact
Aside from the Vegas Golden Knights fiasco with Russian forward Vadim Shipachyov, which ended in his “retirement” from the NHL after only one game into signing a nine million dollar contract and subsequently returning to the KHL, the NHL may be in a better position than ever to evaluate talent from the Russian league.
With the NHL, as of this article, still adamant about not competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics, the stage is set for the KHL’s best talent to play big minutes come this January, as long as Russia’s athletes aren’t banned from the games for doping.
If the KHL ends up participating, there will be sure to be some North American players that will get a second look in the NHL if they can light up the Olympic stage. In a league where there has never been more talent, the opportunity to add more might just be too good for teams to pass up.
Edited by Brian Kang.
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